As Ubaldo Jimenez returned to the Orioles on Tuesday afternoon after a day away from the team, teammates gravitated toward his locker to offer him congratulatory hugs and handshakes before he could even put down his travel bag.
The Orioles' right-hander became an American citizen Monday, officially completing a naturalization process that was several years in the making during a ceremony in Miami.
Jimenez, 32, was born in the Dominican Republic, signed an international free-agent contract at 17 and came to the United States when he was wide-eyed 19-year-old. Though he's faced a rocky road in his three years in Baltimore, Jimenez has been an All-Star, pitched in a World Series and thrown a no-hitter. Roughly six years ago, Jimenez set his eyes on another goal: becoming an American citizen.
"Like they say, this is the land of opportunity," Jimenez said. "It's a great experience. It's a process you have to go through that takes a long time, and then when you finally get it, it's an amazing feeling."
The naturalization process is meticulous. Candidates for citizenship must hold legal residence for at least five years before applying and must pass a thorough review process. They must show mastery of U.S. history and government while being proficient in English.
"I've been part of this country since I was 19 years old, and this country has given me the opportunity to be a better person, not only for me, but for my family," Jimenez said. "I think even back in my country, I've been able to help a lot of people…for the opportunity this country has given me. It's something you don't have any doubt in your mind that you want to do this."
Several Dominican-born players, including Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Angels first baseman Albert Pujols and retired outfielder Manny Ramirez, have gained U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process.
"Even when I had a chance to play in the minor leagues, you see the guys that spend a long time in the big leagues, they do that," Jimenez said. "They do that for themselves, for their family, for their country, and in a way they're telling thanks to this country for everything it's done for them and then it's something you put in your mind. Once you get a chance to do it, of course I'm going to do it."
As the Orioles left Detroit for Boston on Sunday, Jimenez hopped on a flight to Miami – his naturalization process was completed through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service offices there, where he's lived for the past six years. After the naturalization ceremony Monday, he returned to the team Tuesday to a Fenway Park visiting clubhouse full or wellwishers, from players to coaches and trainers.
"It seems like they're aware of everything you have to go through to be able to get this," Jimenez said. "They know how big of a deal it is for me. They're happy."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Jimenez getting his citizenship was "one of the neater things that's happened this year."
"That thing doesn't happen in two months," Showalter said. "That's five years. I know it means a lot to him and affects his family and a lot of different things. He's worked very hard and very diligently for this to happen. It means a lot to him. Pretty proud of him. It's a long process. I think a lot of people lose sight of that and he was very diligent about it. They don't care where you are or who you are and whatever, you've got to go through that process, and he did it."
Though he's had his share of ups and downs on the mound since signing a four-year, $52-million deal with the Orioles before the 2014 season – this year alone he's had a recent resurgence after losing his rotation spot being buried in the bullpen – Jimenez has remained grounded and determined to pull himself through. He's been rooted in his faith and his dedication to his tight-knit family.
Thanks to a mechanical adjustment, Jimenez recently found his footing on the mound. He will go into his next start Friday with a 2.83 ERA in his last four outings while holding opposing batters to a .160 batting average.
And this year, Jimenez began his own family, getting married in the offseason and celebrating the birth of his first child, a daughter named Jimenvi, in late July.
"It's going to affect his wife, his child, his family, a lot of things that help make his life better, we hope," Showalter said. "But he's very proud to be from the Dominican Republic. … It's just something he wanted to do and he got it done."